The FilmDespite all of the gore, exploitation and dodgy sexual politics, horror movies have a fine record of supporting underdogs and outsiders. From Browning's Freaks and Whale's Frankenstein through to Laugier's Martyrs and last year's Excision, society's rejects and malcontents have always found understanding in the bosom of the genre. The Soska twins' second film provides yet more succour for the misshapen, the misconceived and those hiding from everyday eyes.
American Mary follows surgical student Mary Mason as she stumbles upon a way of making ends meet by... making ends meet. Abused and forced out of her course, Mary starts to service a clientele of the surgically addicted and those aspiring to change themselves to meet their dreams. Those wanting a tattoo or a simple piercing need not apply.The Soskas deliver a film with an impressively even tone and a remarkably unusual balance of black humour, respectful fascination and revolting horror. Avoiding the usual trap of mediating their heroine towards the mainstream, American Mary is in fact a strong woman finding herself through experimenting personally and professionally.
The depicton of surgeons as intrinsically malevolent "slashers", in the words of one such character, is richly contrasted with Mary's calm approach to meeting the needs of her clients from the fringes. Her descent into violence is more motivated by the appalling actions of the respectable, rather than a gravitation towards evil. These operations are presented with some grisly details but the choice of her individuals is always celebrated, except when society comes to judge them.Katharine Isabelle is a wonderfully coherent Mary who manages to be both the object of erotic fascination and a driven believable underground surgeon. Her iconic presentation and sound performance helps immeasurably in a film where she is rarely offscreen and the subject matter is how she relates to everyone else.
The Soskas cameo as German identical twins wishing to swap parts, and I am happy to allow them this vanity as their second film is fresh and assured. The final act could have been resolved more clearly and the romance is a little opaque, but every other step is taken with confidence to impressive effect. American Mary is a horror character study rather than a tense shock fest and a very good one at that.
The DiscAmerican Mary fills over 70% of a BD50 with two short featurettes supplementing the film itself. The menu design is the most basic I have seen for a long while with static art punctuated by icons that aren't the most obvious to understand. The featurettes include the Soskas and their lead actress at Frightfest, enjoying the reception of the film and some fan love, and a behind-the-scenes piece on set including the sisters being made up for their cameo. Any Hitchcock parallels thankfully end there as the near naked sisters sit around and chat quite happily to their crew.
Well American Mary looks very nice in a rich detailed presentation which manages contrast strongly. In and out of light, detail is present and edges are natural. The transfer is filmlike and benefits well from the high definition format. The sound is offered in English and German with subtitles for both and the lossless master audio mix is powerful if front loaded. Music is reproduced well, but the 5.1 mix isn't very atmospheric or distributed with much effect across the rears.